Spurs 1 Crystal Palace 0
No 5th November Fireworks! Instead, Spurs had to dig deep in several senses of the word to take 3 points off Palace. Our resilient defence and a wonderful strike from Son proved just enough.
The depth of our squad was tested. We had to give a Spurs debut to our third-choice goalkeeper (with academy keeper Alfie Whiteman on the bench). Wanyama and Lamela remain out, Dembele is still being nursed back to fitness, with Alderweireld and Alli (both hamstrings) added to the absentee list. Pochettino opted for a back-3 of Eric Dier, Jan Vertonghen and Talisman Sanchez, with Serge Aurier and Danny Rose as our wing backs, Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko in midfield, Eriksen, Son and Kane up front.
The 12-noon kick-off time didn’t help the mood and an attendance of ‘only’ 65,270 further suppressed the low-key atmosphere after Wednesday’s cauldron against Real Madrid. Palace came with a conservative game plan based around a packed defence, conceding possession and using Zaha’s and Townsend’s pace to hit us on the break.
Palace are actually one of those teams whose line-up surprises you when you see it. They really shouldn’t be bottom of the table with players like Cabaye and Milivojevic, Dann and Sakho, Loftus-Cheek and Schlupp in their line-up plus Puncheon on the bench. They’d had a whole week to prepare for this game and the extra buzz of playing at Wembley.
All in all, it was a banana skin that any Tottenham fan over-18 would recognise. Even decent past Spurs teams would have tripped up and dropped points. But this one dug deep and refused to accept that Spursy narrative. Plenty of perseverance, a bit of luck, a moment of inspiration = three points.
In the event, our hero and nominated Man of the Match was Paulo Gazzaniga (pictured above), making his Spurs debut in goal. He came up with three excellent saves and commanded his box without visible nerves. His one moment of uncertainty (open goal missed by Zaha) was probably due to a moment’s hesitation between his natural inclinations and the sweeper-keeper requirement of Spurs’ high line.
My own Man of the Match was Eric Dier (again) who was magnificent in the back-three, making 4 perfect sliding tackles in the first half alone, 9 clearances during the match and 82 passes. Vertonghen and Sanchez both had fine matches as well.
Hodgson’s game plan for Palace is reflected in the possession stat, with Spurs having 68% to Palace’s 32%. Overall, however, it was a close-run affair; 12 shots v their 11, our 2 on target v 3, 10 corners to 9. It was definitely one of those nip-and-tuck games we could have drawn or lost.
After edging it, we remain third with a 7-2-2 record and 23 points. We are level with Man United (who lost at Chelsea), both now 8 points behind Man City who have 31 points. Our goal difference is +13 (well behind City’s currently ridiculous +31). Chelsea are 4th on 22 points, with Liverpool, Arsenal and Burnley 5th – 7th all on 19 pnts.